Last week we began our journey through the Torah according to the Jewish reading order. In Genesis chapter 1 we visited Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the place of creation, the beginning of man, and also the place of the original sin. We saw how people sin and saddened God time after time.
This week we read the Parasha of Noah, in which the harsh punishments of God towards mankind are described as being a result of their sins. It is interesting to see how, after every punishment, God regrets and becomes gentler towards mankind in the hope of finding a thread that will connect him with his rebellious children on earth. This is reminiscent of a young father who is trying to find the right way to discipline his children. But the children also have a responsibility to return to their father. This is what is called in Hebrew “ tshuva”, and it means “returning to God”, or “repentance”.
As your guide, the moral deterioration of mankind leads me to take you past the mountains of Jerusalem to an area called “Shfela” which means a low place – both geographically and morally, so we will focus on the most important place in this area- Tel Aviv, also known as the “Sin City” of Israel. There are two main and very ancient roads from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv: Road 1 and Road 443. Alongside each road there are trees planted by man: Next to Road 1 there are pine trees planted by Zionist Jews in the last 70 years, and along Road 443 it is mainly olive trees planted by Palestinians in the West Bank in the last few decades and centuries. Noah, the hero of the Parasha, is the first biblical figure that planted a tree – he planted a vineyard after the flood. The olive tree is also mentioned in the Parasha – the dove that sends Noah from the ark to look for land – brings “a freshly plucked olive leaf”, the symbol of peace, the same peace we continue to long for. At the end of the road the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa awaits us.
Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 as the capital of the Zionist movement in Palestine, and has evolved into the country’s most important economic centre. Founded on dunes of sand during the British Mandate, it became the New York of the Land of Israel, and many Jews who emigrated to Israel at the time came through Tel Aviv or nearby Jaffa (now one city). The Parasha also tells us about one of the first cities mentioned in the Bible, right after the flood, a city with a tower within it. Babylon was founded by mankind as a protest against the cruelty of God who destroyed them, and also as a means of protecting humanity from Him. But God, in His grace, understood the danger of establishing a city with such motivation. The people said: ” let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”. What characterizes cities like Babylon, Tel Aviv, New York and other international capitals is their sense of power. Against this human power, savage and devoid of faith, whose whole purpose is to increase military and economic power, not to strengthen faith in God, God is imposing a new punishment: he is confusing people’s language and spreading them in all directions. In the twentieth century, humanity experienced two murderous world wars, and many others were killed due to a lethal combination of a lack of faith in God and unifying ideology as said in the Parash: ” And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech”. The biggest paradox is the meaning of the name Babylon in Akkadian is “Gate to God“.
In the New Testament, Babylon is mentioned several times in the book of Revelation as a symbol of moral corruption, greed and hedonism that brings God to fight one final war on the last day to sanctify mankind:
“Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” (Revelation 17 verse 5).
The interesting thing is that Jerusalem is also referred to by the prophets of the Old Testament as Babylon: “Go down, sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, queen city of the Babylonians. No more will you be called tender or delicate”. We can learn that every city can be corrupt, even Jerusalem, but also that every city can be Jerusalem, even Babylon “the gate to God”, if its people are good and God-fearing.
Itamar Ben David is a professional tour guide and educator. He is one of the most popular Travelujah guides providing valuable biblical, historical and modern day insight on the land of Israel to Jewish and Christian groups and exclusive private tours. He has guided famous media personalities such as Larry King, congressmen and other VIP clients. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.